Even though Rick Nash has maintained his home in Columbus, the New York Rangers forward is staying in the team hotel for his first trip back to the city where he grew up as a hockey player.
"Just like a regular road trip," Nash told reporters in Columbus after practice Thursday.
Nash may be saying that as a way to convince himself, or to deflect the nerves and emotions he's feeling leading up to his first game as a visitor in Nationwide Arena, but this road trip to face the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday is anything but regular for him.
Nash figured that out Thursday when he walked into the arena he called home for 10 years and saw familiar faces everywhere, including security guards and some members of the Blue Jackets training staff who tend to the visitors dressing room.
He has faced his former team twice this season at Madison Square Garden, scoring two goals on Jan. 6, but this is Nash's first game in Columbus since he was traded in the summer of 2012. The Rangers didn't make the trip last season and he was out with a concussion when they were there Nov. 7.
"It's tough to describe," Nash said when asked how he felt about his return. "Obviously it's the first time being here since the trade, and there's a lot of excitement for me coming back to play in front of the fans I played in front of for 10 years. There are a lot of good memories here, a lot of friends
Left Wing - NYR
GOALS: 22 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 34
SOG: 209 | +/-: 5
The Blue Jackets are planning a video tribute for Nash during the first period. He'll have friends and family in attendance. He may hear boos, but he may hear the familiar sounds of cheers from the Blue Jackets fans. He doesn't know. He's curious.
Nash was the face of the Blue Jackets for a decade after being selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2002 NHL Draft, but he was traded to the Rangers approximately five months after former Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson revealed Nash asked to be traded.
"I'll have a lot of family and friends here so I know they'll be cheering," Nash said. "As for the other fans, I'm not sure what to expect. Like I've said ever since I got traded and came to the Rangers, me and the Blue Jacket fans have been through so much together. If I get cheers, great. If I get boos, which I'm sure there will be some, I'll move on from that."
The Blue Jackets made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in Nash's decade-long career in Columbus but never won a playoff game. They were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2009 Western Conference Quarterfinals. Nash had three points in the four-game series.
Nash said he's happy for the fans now because the Blue Jackets are battling for a playoff position, even though that battle is partly against Nash's Rangers, now one of Columbus' Metropolitan Division rivals.
The teams enter the night even with 78 points; however, the Blue Jackets own third place in the division after a 3-2 road victory against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday that dropped the Rangers into the second wild-card spot in the East.
"The fans, we went through a lot, four playoff games in 10 years, so it was a tough go," Nash said. "To see them doing well, I'm happy for the fans and I'm happy for ownership. They have great ownership. They've got a family that really loves the city and really loves that organization. It's good to see them succeed."